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Dental Advertising? What’s Your Opinion?

February 17, 2015

Filed under: ARTICLES — Tags: , — Barry @ 10:53 PM

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When Mike came in for his six month check-up I asked him the routine questions most dentists ask their patients.  “Have you been flossing?”  I already knew the answer, I get my information from much more reliable sources, but I always ask because this is class time and I’m a teacher as well as a dentist.

The look on his face said it all…he said, “Yes, I use one of those gadgets and I do it while I’m in traffic.  I don’t really believe in flossing anyway.”

“Okay…let me ask you a question (he should have known he was getting set up).  Do you remember that movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks?”

He nodded yes, and even knew the character’s name: Chuck Noland.

So I said, “If Chuck wanted to save his teeth, which would be pretty important for his long-term survival on a deserted island, what one tool would he most want to find in those broken Fed-Ex boxes that were washed up in the crash?”

Mike is an apt pupil and a pretty smart guy…so he chose floss…but he also said he would take Wilson the soccer ball as his real first choice.

Yes, we both concluded that floss is probably the first tool to use for long term retention of teeth.

But that is being challenged these days.  The other day I saw “new research” that claimed chewing gum was more effective than floss.

Chewing gum?  C’mon man!

It seems that everything I know about dentistry is being challenged these days.  No, this is not your father’s dentistry.

It made think about what informs our culture…where we get our information about dentistry.

When dentists ask each other to explain how much the profession has changed they usually resort to the usual suspects: the economy and insurance, but maybe it was a change that occurred in the mid-eighties: lifting the ban on professional advertising.

Organized dentistry opposed advertising for years.  A 2008 article in the Journal of the American Dental Association states what our founding fathers were concerned about by lifting the ban:

Advertising by dentists is a complex and significant issue. It does not affect just the business of the practice of dentistry but also—and more importantly, from a professional perspective—the public’s perception of dentistry.

Advertising is a sophisticated science.  In the early 1900’s advertising executive Claude Hopkins was hired by the inventor of Pepsodent toothpaste to help sell his new refreshingly minty new product.  At the time America was in a recognized dental hygiene crisis.  New recruits to the Army for World War I had horrible oral hygiene and the military considered dental disease as a national health crisis.    Hopkins, the author of the book Scientific Advertising was a specialist in changing people’s behavior.

Before his Pepsodent campaign, only 7% of America had a tube of toothpaste in their medicine cabinets.  Ten years after his campaign that number jumped to 65%.  Claude Hopkins successful campaign also had some impressive side effects.  It helped raise the public’s consciousness of oral hygiene and dentistry in general.

When I was growing up in the fifties and sixties, oral hygiene advertising combined with the idea of seeing the dentists twice per year and the association with the ADA’s Seal of Approval really helped dentistry’s public image.

I grew up with Bucky Beaver, Colgate ads, and of course Crest’s- Look Ma No Cavities.  Ahh…those were the days.

Then the ban was lifted.

And the non-professional advertisers entered the game.  The amateurs have effectively ruined the image of dentistry. 

Now I am not against the reasons why the Federal Trade Commission lifted the ban...for freedom of speech and anti-trust reasons related to non-competition.  Today professional advertising and the liberal approach to the ADA’s guidelines have created a Wild West scenario.  Discounts, coupons, groupons, creative insurance pricing…but what really gets me is the false claims made by those outside of dentistry.  I saw an ad last week by a dental lab that manufactured impression material for home use that when sent into the lab would give them enough information to create snap on veneers.  There seems to be no limits these days.

Let’s take a look at what that 2008 ADA article concluded:

 

That is why a significant concern about professional advertising is the potential loss of credibility and possible degradation of the image of the dental profession. This occurs when professionals conduct their practices more as tradespeople and entrepreneurs do, making dentistry appear more like a trade than a profession dedicated to health care. As a result, the public may perceive that dentistry more aptly fits the picture of a business or a trade rather than of a profession.

So, legality notwithstanding, many dentists believe that aggressive marketing practices such as discount ploys not only are in bad taste, but also diminish the profession in the public eye and may give the appearance of a greater interest in profit than in quality and integrity of service.

 

The real shame to me is what the power of advertising can do when professional marketers get involved.  Claude Hopkins changed people’s behavior and along the way helped create dignity for our profession…why can’t we do that again?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13 Comments

  1. I really don’t believe that advertising has played a significant role in the decline of the professional status of dentists and dentistry.
    I would point to other reasons for the decline in our status.
    1. The ADA was useless when I was younger but is now totally irrelevant at a time when our profession needs a professional representative.
    2. A decline in standards which permits each dentist to define the term ‘excellence’ as he or she sees fit. When viewed against the best in dentistry (Spear, Kois, Fahl,Misch who represent 100) the average dentist practices at a 35-40% range. Is that effort worthy of professional status?
    3. There are 130,000 practicing general dentists to take care of 315,000,000 people. There is no reason for dentists to participate with insurance companies which pay 30-40% of fees. Why would a dentist deliver excellence when they are not paid to do so.

    Advertising my be a small factor in the decline of professionalism but, because ‘everyone’ advertises, it has a numbing effect on the average dental patient population.

    Comment by Gerald — February 17, 2015 @ 11:19 PM

  2. Gerald–I think your number 1–about the ADA is right on. I alluded to that in the post–the ADA could use the power of advertising to send a better message.
    And yes–I also agree that the advertising has a numbing effect—but just think what some very skilled advertising people could do…instead of those lousy discount ads.

    Comment by Barry — February 17, 2015 @ 11:24 PM

  3. We do not have intense advertising offering step discounts in my geographic area. I do more advertising in my geographic area than anyone but it is always simple and elegant.

    There ‘average’ dentist is just like every other ‘average’ dentist and therefore they only way they think that they can get noticed and have a ‘competitive’ advantage over other dentists is to compete on price and how many insurance plans they participate with…..and they are right. But it is a race to the bottom. Ask any average dentist if they love what they are doing…nevermind.

    Comment by Gerald — February 18, 2015 @ 7:13 AM

  4. Gerald, the blog post was kind of a general “state of the union” statement. I have seen good and bad advertising. I guess my main point is that there are very sophisticated advertisers these days (that’s why I used Claude Hopkins as an example), who use very sophisticated “neuromarketing” to change people’s behaviors. From the dental community I see mostly “price” advertising and as you say the race to the bottom. The dental community could do so much more…and when the FTC opened the gates…every Tom Dick and Harry got in bed with their local content providers —Yellow Pages—Web Designers etc. I mean–just look at dental websites as an example of the same old same old.

    Comment by Barry Polansky — February 18, 2015 @ 9:30 AM

  5. The ADA is like a union, with the union reps getting all the real benefits while the members pay dues and really get nothing much.

    Comment by Roger — February 18, 2015 @ 8:05 AM

  6. No one respects dentists and the so-called profession of dentistry. Holding companies use dentists with their dental mills, insurance companies have a stranglehold on dental offices, and people only want what insurance pays or they go without treatments. And dentistry still continues to be the butt of jokes. Advertisers claim people can do certain procedures on their own without consulting a dentist. The general public consults one another on here say information and individual opinions on dentistry. It’s all going downhill fast, back to when dentists were barbers.

    Comment by Roger — February 18, 2015 @ 8:03 AM

  7. Thank you Roger– well said—the post was trying to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the dental community…including the ADA. No one individual is responsible—it was group effort. Collateral damage of lifting the ban, iof you will.
    The lack of leadership, as you suggest, plus the avarice of so many in this profession—those with licenses and those without—never considering the greater effect on the profession. Dentists throwing dentists under the bus—great blood sport.

    Comment by Barry Polansky — February 18, 2015 @ 9:34 AM

  8. I think we all know what the issues are. The question is what steps must must we ie the profession take to salvage our careers ?
    Gerald

    Comment by Gerald — February 18, 2015 @ 2:33 PM

  9. Now we’re talking Gerald—I think from a collective point of view, there isn’t much we can do. The horse has left the barn. We can’t go backwards. Except at an educational level—somehow (don’t ask me) dental education must change.
    From an individual poibnt of view–I am a big believer in understanding what makes people tick. I try to approach dentistry from a motivational perspective. Of course this means spending more time with patients trying to understand their true needs. I’m not sure if young dentists getting out of school appreciate this approach and are willing or even able to apply it.

    Comment by Barry Polansky — February 18, 2015 @ 2:43 PM

  10. Hi Barry;
    I must respectively disagree..The only way the profession can win is to act collectively. Just like the American auto industry approached Congress in the 1980s and convinced the government that the big 3 were not the competition which was, in reality, Japan. The Congress permitted the American car companies to cooperate in building test facilities, etc so that they could fairly compete with the Japanese.
    Dentists are not each others competition. The market has been rigged by the insurance industry which is one of only 2 industries in the United States that enjoys exemption from anti-trust laws. The industry has been WILLING to give up the exemption in the past. Until we are allowed to collude, I mean cooperate with our colleagues, we must:
    1. Become active in our alumni dental schools and force a new curriculum on the schools so that the new graduates are not easy foder for 1st Advantage and other corporate dental owners.
    2. All young dentists must be willing to cooperate with each other for the greater good and give the insurance industry a date at which time they will end participation. The goal is NOT to eliminate dental insurance but force them to pay a livable wage.
    3. Demand direct elections of the ADA leadership to end the old (inept) boy network which is designed to maintain the status quo and control young dentists.
    4. Demand a lowering of tuition at dental schools. A recent graduate with $3,000-$4,000 monthly school payments is unsustainable.
    5. Require more undergraduate science courses so that basic sciences can be reduced in favor of more education in function,occlusion, diagnosis and treatment planning which is the key to earning a decent living as a dentist.
    6. Demand that dinosaur dental faculty be fired and a doubling of faculty salaries to attract top notch educators.
    Dentistry as a profession will be over if we do not adapt some or all of these recommendations
    gerald

    Comment by Gerald — February 18, 2015 @ 8:14 PM

  11. Bravo Gerald—your list is excellent. I can’t find fault in any of your recommendations. I would add that young dentists need to learn leadership skills beyond their current curriculum. Dentists are placed into leadership positions when goinmg into practice and are unprepared…that’s why they are fodder.
    Only one issue I have is where does our leadership comes from?
    Many practicing dentists only want to complain rather than take the bull by the horns—we need more people who want to stand up and take charge.
    I think your list is great and hopefully people will read it here and get inspired.
    Thanks

    Comment by Barry Polansky — February 18, 2015 @ 9:23 PM

  12. Barry,
    Yes you are correct. Young dentists must learn how to be an effective leader.The problem, and I have discussed this with many, is that kids in dental school are trying to complete requirements, obtain skills, study for tests etc. They would maintain that this is not the time to teach us what we will use down the road. It must be taught on day one.

    Unfortunately, you and I are dinosaurs. We understood that understanding people and having a relationship with our patients was equally important as having Spear like skills. Unfortunately, people no longer want a relationship… They want a ‘relationship’ with their insurance company more than the person restoring their teeth. Sad but true. Rich people, poor people, smart people, educated people all say the same ignorant thing: “Does my insurance cover this?”

    When I needed shoulder surgery, I selected one of the top 10 shoulder surgeons in the country who also takes care of the Yankees, Mets, Tennis players, etc. Write me a check for $18,000 and YOUR insurance will pay you. When I needed knee replacement, I went to one of the top 10 knee surgeons who again asked for a check for $18,000 an YOUR insurance company will send you a check. I wrote the check because I VALUED the talent. Oh…there is a three month wait to get on the surgical schedule. People no longer value the skills of a select group of superb dentists and it makes no difference how good your people skills may be….sad

    Comment by Gerald — February 19, 2015 @ 12:23 AM

  13. Agreed Gerald–as you say in your recommendations—changing the curricula and getting rid of the good old boys is key. Way too many old time dentists place no value in the leadership and communication skills necessary for today’s patients.
    Change is in the air—

    Comment by Barry Polansky — February 19, 2015 @ 8:24 AM

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